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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

A way out of the GOP's debt-ceiling mess comes into focus

09/06/17 09:20AM

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Congress that it must raise the debt ceiling by Sept. 29 -- just three weeks away -- to prevent the nation from defaulting on its debts and crashing the economy. That deadline has since been moved up "a couple of days," leaving lawmakers with even less time to do what needs to be done.

And for a while, that looked like it might be a real problem. As recently as two weeks ago, Politico published a piece saying Republicans "are in a really, really bad spot" when it comes to raising the nation's debt limit, adding that GOP leaders "have no plan, nothing on the horizon, and very little time to get this done."

Hurricane Harvey appears to have changed the political landscape, at least a little. The Washington Post reported overnight:

Senate leaders are prepared to vote this week on legislation that would pair an increase in the federal government's borrowing limit with $7.9 billion in disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey despite opposition from conservatives.

The decision to combine the two unrelated measures is a potentially risky strategy that could further alienate conservatives who have insisted that any debt-limit increase be paired with corresponding spending cuts.

Before the deadly storm, congressional leaders were working on a plan to pass a clean debt-ceiling bill with considerable Democratic support. In recent days, however, officials decided it'd just be easier to attach a debt-ceiling increase to a disaster relief bill -- which members of both parties will, by and large, be inclined to support.

For now, the plan is as follows: the House will pass a Harvey-related spending package today, sending the bill to the Senate, which will add a debt-ceiling increase to the legislation, before sending it back to the lower chamber. According to the Post's reporting, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said last night his chamber would likely pass that bill and send to the White House for the president's signature.

There's no guarantee this will work -- quite a few far-right members in both chambers, including the House Freedom Caucus, have said publicly they don't want the two priorities tied together -- but it probably offers the most straightforward path to success, and when it comes to the debt ceiling, the GOP doesn't appear to have a back-up plan.

But even if the plan works, it'd only be the first rung on a tall September ladder.

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Image: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Anthony Scaramucci

White House sends a provocative shot across the GOP Congress' bow

09/06/17 08:40AM

In a moment that raised eyebrows in D.C. yesterday, Nancy Pelosi said that if the Republican-led Congress can't address the nation's problems, these failing lawmakers should be replaced with members who know how to get things done.

Wait, did I say Nancy Pelosi? My mistake. It was actually White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, apparently indifferent to the fact that it's her party that controls the legislative branch.

"I don't think the American people elected Congress to do things that were easy. They elected them to make a government that works, to work properly, and to work for American people. And that's their job. And if they can't do it, then they need to get out of the way and let somebody else who can take on a heavy lift and get things accomplished. [,,,]

"If Congress doesn't want to do the job that they were elected to do, then maybe they should get out of the way and let someone else do it."

In all, the president's chief spokesperson said three times at yesterday's briefing that members of the GOP-led Congress should be prepared to "get out of the way" and let someone else do their jobs.

I can't think of a modern precedent for rhetoric like this, with a White House controlled by one party threatening a Congress controlled by the same party. A former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called Sanders' rhetoric "senselessly provocative."

And yet, there's no reason to think Trump World cares. Indeed, the president himself has picked all kinds of fights with individual Republican lawmakers, so Sanders sending a shot across the GOP-led Congress' bow is consistent with the White House's curious political strategy.

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Image: Donald Trump

Looking for the method behind Donald Trump's political madness

09/06/17 08:00AM

They're known as "wedge issues." Partisans, looking for a political advantage, identify controversial issues on which their rivals are divided, and use them to drive a wedge between allies. In the Bush/Cheney era, for example, Republicans used same-sex marriage as a wedge, dividing Democrats ahead of the 2004 elections, when marriage equality was far less accepted than it is now.

Donald Trump has developed a unique talent for turning the entire model on its head. The president keeps taking unpopular positions on hot-button issues -- health care, immigration, civil rights -- dividing his allies and uniting his opponents. NBC News' Benjy Sarlin yesterday described Trump's approach as embracing "anti-wedge issues."

One need not be a political scientist to conclude this is bizarre. Instead of taking steps to become more popular, Trump is pitting himself against the attitudes of the American mainstream. Instead of driving a wedge between Democrats and their allies, the president is making divisions among Republicans considerably worse.

This was obviously the case yesterday, when the president, at least for now, decided to end protections for Dreamers -- another unpopular move that exacerbates intra-party tensions.

The question is why in the world any politician, even a hapless amateur like Trump, would do this. Is there a method lurking beneath the president's madness?

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 9.5.17

09/05/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* First Harvey, now Irma: "Bottled water, flashlights, batteries and other staples were flying off store shelves across Puerto Rico on Tuesday as nervous residents braced for the arrival of Hurricane Irma -- already one of the strongest storms ever recorded and currently packing 185 mph winds."

* Western fires: "Winds wreaked havoc on wildfires that were threatening two crown jewels of the National Park Service on Monday, pushing the flames toward manmade and natural icons in and around Glacier and Yosemite national parks."

* Russia: "President Vladimir V. Putin seemed to be in top form during a news conference in China on Tuesday, answering a question about President Trump by saying the American leader is 'not my bride, and I am not his groom.'"

* A growing list: "Add the Palm Beach Habilitation Center to the list of charities exiting President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club."

* I'm curious who'd pay money to hear him talk: "Sean Spicer ... has signed with Worldwide Speakers Group, the company confirmed to POLITICO."

* This sounds like the sort of thing the United States could do: "The Canadian government, working with a Toronto-based nonprofit, has quietly allowed gay men and lesbians from the Russian republic of Chechnya to seek safety in Canada over the past three months."

* Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had some notable comments at a policy conference in Italy last week: "I realize that I come to Italy at a time when many are questioning whether America is still committed to remaining engaged in the world, to upholding our traditional alliances, and standing up for the values we share. I also realize -- and there is no point in avoiding a little straight talk here -- that this doubt has much to do with some of the actions and statements of our president."

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President Barack Obama speaks at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Dec. 6, 2016, about the administration's approach to counterterrorism campaign. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Obama speaks up as Trump targets Dreamers

09/05/17 03:32PM

Just two days before the end of his presidency, Barack Obama hosted a White House press conference in which he said he expected the new administration and Congress to make their own determinations about the nation's direction, and by and large, he intended to stay out of it.

Obama acknowledged at the time, however, that there might be exceptions to the rule. "There's a difference," the outgoing president explained, "between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake." By way of an example, Obama specifically pointed to the fate of Dreamers.

"The notion that we would just arbitrarily, or because of politics, punish those kids when they didn't do anything wrong themselves, I think, would be something that would merit me speaking out," he said on Jan. 18.

Which leads us to this afternoon. Just four hours after the Trump administration rescinded the DACA policy Obama crafted in 2012, the former president published a piece on Facebook, expressing his concerns over today's developments. An excerpt:

To target these young people is wrong -- because they have done nothing wrong. It is self-defeating -- because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel. What if our kid's science teacher, or our friendly neighbor turns out to be a Dreamer? Where are we supposed to send her? To a country she doesn't know or remember, with a language she may not even speak?

Let's be clear: the action taken today isn't required legally. It's a political decision, and a moral question. Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn't threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us. They are that pitcher on our kid's softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance. Kicking them out won't lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone's taxes, or raise anybody's wages.

It is precisely because this action is contrary to our spirit, and to common sense, that business leaders, faith leaders, economists, and Americans of all political stripes called on the administration not to do what it did today. And now that the White House has shifted its responsibility for these young people to Congress, it's up to Members of Congress to protect these young people and our future.... Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we'd want our own kids to be treated. It's about who we are as a people -- and who we want to be.

For those keeping score, this isn't the first time the former president has broken with his self-imposed silence.

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Image: Attorney General Jeff Sessions Holds A Briefing On DACA

Sessions: Trump admin has 'rescinded' protections for Dreamers

09/05/17 12:24PM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump vowed to pursue mass deportations, without exceptions. In a not-so-subtle shot at Dreamers, the Republican vowed, "[U]nlike this administration, no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement." This followed related comments in which he said Dreamers "have to go."

As president, however, Trump seemed to realize how radical a posture this was. As recently as late April, he said Dreamers should "rest easy" about his immigration policies. Trump told the Associated Press at the time that he's "not after the Dreamers, we are after the criminals."

Which of these commitments would the president break?

The New York Times reported that as recently as last week, Trump, feeling exasperated, asked his aides for "a way out" the dilemma. Today we learned what they came up with.

President Donald Trump's Justice Department announced Tuesday it would wind down DACA, putting in place a phased termination plan that would give Congress a six-month window to pass legislation that could eventually save the Obama-era program that allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to remain in the country. [...]

The decision could affect as many as 800,000 Dreamers who have signed up for the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, since its 2012 inception. Immigrant rights advocates have said 200,000 more have sought DACA status since Trump became president.

Because Trump apparently lacked the courage to make this announcement himself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a long-time opponent of the Dream Act during his Senate career, announced this morning that the DACA program is "now rescinded."

For the hundreds of thousands of young people for whom the United States is the only home they've ever known, the Trump administration's announcement is a nightmare come to life. We're talking about people who are already part of the American fabric -- from soldiers to students, workers to home owners -- who will now confront the threat of deportation for reasons Donald Trump lacks the wherewithal to explain.

It's among the cruelest presidential decisions in recent memory, and it was made for no good reason.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Identifying Trump's 'primary source of information gathering'

09/05/17 11:37AM

In the fall of 2004, the late Sen. Jim Bunning was facing unsettling questions about his fitness for public office during his re-election bid, and shortly before Election Day, the Kentucky Republican made matters slightly worse.

One of his constituents was at the center of a major controversy -- an Army Reserve soldier in Iraq refused an order to deliver fuel because his truck wasn't properly armored -- and asked for a reaction, Bunning said, "I don't know anything about that." When reporters wondered how that was possible given the attention the story had received in his home state of Kentucky, the GOP senator replied, "Let me explain something: I don't watch the national news, and I don't read the paper. I haven't done that for the last six weeks. I watch Fox News to get my information."

This was a sitting U.S. senator, running for re-election during a time of war. The idea that he'd rely on conservative media as his primary source of information gathering on current events seemed bizarre.

More than a decade later, however, it's even stranger that the president of the United States is in the same boat. The New York Times reported the other day on White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's frustrations after a month on the job.

Mr. Kelly cannot stop Mr. Trump from binge-watching Fox News, which aides describe as the president's primary source of information gathering. But Mr. Trump does not have a web browser on his phone, and does not use a laptop, so he was dependent on aides like Stephen K. Bannon, his former chief strategist, to hand-deliver printouts of articles from conservative media outlets.

Now Mr. Kelly has thinned out his package of printouts so much that Mr. Trump plaintively asked a friend recently where The Daily Caller and Breitbart were.

The American president has more access to information than probably any living human, but Donald J. Trump likes conservative outlets that tell him what he wants to hear.

And whether he realizes this or not, this isn't good for Trump's presidency.

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Rep. Jim Bridenstine attends a news conference in Oklahoma, May 21, 2013.

Trump's pick to lead NASA faces some bipartisan pushback

09/05/17 11:00AM

Shortly before Election Day 2016, when it was widely assumed that Donald Trump would lose, leading Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), were taking steps to distance themselves from their party's nominee. Some far-right GOP officials spoke up to say they didn't appreciate the tactics.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), for example, declared, "Given the stakes of this election, if Paul Ryan isn't for Trump, then I'm not for Paul Ryan."

That's the kind of loyalty this president is inclined to reward.

Representative Jim Bridenstine, Republican of Oklahoma, will be nominated by President Trump to serve as NASA's next administrator, the White House said on Friday night.

Mr. Bridenstine, a strong advocate for drawing private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin more deeply into NASA's exploration of space, had been rumored to be the leading candidate for the job, but months passed without an announcement.

For context, it's worth noting that the most recent NASA chief, Charles Bolden, is a decorated war veteran who was also an astronaut for 14 years.

Bridenstine, a former Navy Reserve pilot, helped run a space museum in Oklahoma before he was elected to Congress -- where he earned a reputation as one of the House's most ardent climate deniers. (At one point, the far-right lawmaker demanded on the House floor that Barack Obama issue a public apology for his efforts to combat the climate crisis.)

While it's true that the Oklahoma Republican has taken an interest in space-related legislation, Bridenstine's background has some NASA allies feeling a little nervous.

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Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, Roy Moore, speaks to the congregation of Kimberly Church of God, June 28, 2015, in Kimberley, Ala. (Photo by Butch Dill/AP)

Alabama's Roy Moore flunks an easy test on current events

09/05/17 10:30AM

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, currently a leading Republican U.S. Senate candidate, has quite a bit to say about matters pertaining to religion. In a recent interview, for example, Moore suggested the United States is arguably "the focus of evil in the modern world," because Americans "promote a lot of bad things."

Asked for an example, he said, "Same-sex marriage."

As the Washington Post reported, however, Moore is less sure what to say when it comes to discussing current events.

The Republican leading in the runoff race in Alabama's Senate primary appears to have no idea what the biggest political issues of the moment even are.

In a July 11 interview with the Dale Jackson Show on local radio channel WVNN, and uncovered Friday by Washington Examiner columnist Philip Wegmann, Judge Roy Moore appears completely stumped on what the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is — you know, the one that's been a rallying cry on the right for liberal overreach for years, and the one President Trump has said he'll decide about over the weekend, and the one some Republicans in Congress are paradoxically encouraging him to keep.

Moore was asked during a radio interview about the president's intention to end DACA protections, and he was clearly confused by the question. "Pardon?" he asked. "The Dreamer program?"

The host clarified and responded, "You're not aware of what Dreamers are?" Moore replied, "No." When the host, WVNN's Dale Jackson, noted that this is "a big issue in the immigration debate," the Alabama Republican said the host should bring him up to speed on the issue.

Jackson obliged, though Moore still seemed confused, saying he was glad Congress has "already taken that up." He added that, if he's elected to the Senate, he would "look at that program. I surely would. I think it needs to be looked at."

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A doorman stands as people walk past the Trump Tower in N.Y. on May 23, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Justice Department undermines Trump's wiretap conspiracy theory

09/05/17 10:00AM

Donald Trump hadn't even been in the White House for two months when he made one of the more audacious allegations ever levied by a president against his immediate predecessor. In early March, Trump woke up one Saturday morning and, shortly before going golfing, told the public that he'd "just found out" that former President Obama illegally tapped his phones at Trump Tower before the presidential election.

"This is Nixon/Watergate," the Republican said. "Bad (or sick) guy!"

Two weeks later, as it became clear that the confused president had relied on a nonsensical report from a right-wing website, Trump nevertheless told reporters he felt "somewhat" vindicated about his conspiracy theory, thanks to support from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) -- even after Nunes had helped debunk many of the key elements of Trump's bizarre accusations.

Perhaps the president can reflect anew on whether he feels vindicated in light of Friday's news.

The Justice Department confirmed in a court filing there is no evidence that Trump Tower was targeted for surveillance by the Obama administration -- contradicting President Trump's controversial claim first made in March.

A "Motion for Summary Judgment" filed Friday evening in D.C. district court says neither the FBI nor the Justice Department's National Security Division have records confirming wiretaps that Trump accused the Obama administration of ordering.

The document was submitted in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by American Oversight, a government watchdog group.

As the USA Today report noted, this was the first time the Justice Department has issued a formal denial of the president's conspiracy theory. That the DOJ waited until late on Friday ahead of Labor Day weekend -- the equivalent of officials declaring, "For the love of God, we hope no one sees this" -- makes it all the more noteworthy.

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The dome of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, Mar. 19, 2014.

The Republicans' ACA repeal crusade now faces a tough deadline

09/05/17 09:30AM

I realize phrases such as "Senate parliamentarian" and "budget reconciliation rules" don't exactly qualify as click-bait, but there was some news from Capitol Hill late last week that may end up affecting millions of Americans' lives.

At Donald Trump's insistence, congressional Republicans have spent much of the year trying to approve a regressive health care plan, which Senate Democrats haven't been able to filibuster for a specific, procedural reason: GOP lawmakers are using the budget reconciliation process, which means they can pass certain kinds of bills with simple majorities in both chambers.

When it comes to repealing the Affordable Care Act, that hasn't turned out well for Republicans, at least not yet, though the president still expects his GOP allies to return to the subject. What we learned on Friday is that Republicans will have to hurry. Politico reported:

In a potential death knell for efforts to repeal Obamacare -- at least this year -- the Senate parliamentarian has ruled that Republicans face a Sept. 30 deadline to kill or overhaul the law with only 50 votes, Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee said Friday. [...]

Senate Republicans had been relying on a fast-track budget measure known as reconciliation in their effort to repeal Obamacare, which stalled weeks ago thanks to a decisive vote by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, ruled that the budget measure expires at the end of the month when fiscal 2017 ends, meaning any repeal effort beyond that date would need 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster.

An Associated Press report noted that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee and "took the lead in the arcane arguments before the parliamentarian, who acts as the Senate's nonpartisan referee."

So, in practical terms, what does this mean? Republicans thought they could return to their health care crusade at some point in the near future, but they suddenly have far less time than they thought. Given the September to-do list on Capitol Hill, even the fiercest GOP health care critics may struggle to find time to take another bite at this apple.

But there's an under-appreciated angle to this that some of the media reports overlooked.

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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